Forty hours before leaving to comfort Latter-day Saints who lost the neighborhoods, woods, homes, and church houses that built many of their family memories in Paradise, California, President Russell M. Nelson lost his daughter, Wendy Nelson Maxfield, to cancer.
As President Nelson walked streets now little more than ash and the charred, skeletal remains of the homes that once stood there, he wrestled with his own loss. But our prophet saw beauty in those ashes, a strength in the service that resulted.
"The people who lost the most gave the most. They are still giving," President Nelson said in a Church News video. "People are really living as Christ would live. It's one of the most amazing stories of ministering in a higher and holier way that I have ever seen."
President Nelson spoke of the lessons he learned in Paradise in a remarkable article he wrote for azcentral.com prior to his devotional at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, for an estimated 68,000 members and friends of the faith on February 10, 2019.
“In Paradise, we witnessed utter devastation. The city was destroyed. The aftermath was staggering—families homeless, businesses gone, children still haunted by the night they fled for their lives,” President Nelson writes. “But that tragedy also revealed the best of humanity—first responders racing to help others as their own homes burned, families helping older neighbors out of harm’s way, residents and neighbors working tirelessly to help the refugees.”
In the midst of those struggling with their own personal disasters, President Nelson recalls those who compassionately reached out and comforted him after the loss of his daughter.
“As we tearfully looked into each other’s hearts, the blackened chimneys and a sea of ash seemed to fade into the background. Our shared faith that God would heal our hearts and help us rebuild our lives knit our hearts together in love and allowed us to experience ‘the peace of God, which passeth all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7),” President Nelson writes. “If there is anything I’ve learned in my 94 years of living, it is that a life with God is far better—more filled with hope—than one without Him. Faith in God is, and has always been, the preeminent force for good in this world. It is the most enduring source of peace for minds and hearts.”
But President Nelson recognized that what he witnessed in Paradise “stands in stark contrast to much of what we see in the world today,” where many belittle belief in God or turn to other sources for answers and comfort.
“Nothing man-made can ever approach what God can do for His children. The most able minds cannot offer redemption from sin or heal our hearts from emotional pain. They cannot generate enduring hope or joy. They cannot promise life after death or the potential of being with our loved ones beyond the grave. They cannot generate peace of mind,” President Nelson writes. “But God can. Our spiritual DNA is His DNA. If our hearts are open to Him—if we believe in the divinity of the Father and His Son—we can rise from the ashes of our lives and become the men and women we were sent to earth to become.”
But, even though our Heavenly Father can bring light even into the darkest of situations, President Nelson acknowledges that He doesn’t abolish the darkness or trials in our lives. Instead, he shares, “It is my conviction that our Savior can strengthen and enable us to reach our highest highs and be able to cope with our lowest lows. . . . He will infuse your life with meaning and fill your heart with hope that transcends anything the world can offer.”